planning your day to thrive in grad school

Last week I was on the verge of quitting grad school because I hated going into work every day, my project seemed overwhelming, and there were many other things I imagined I would rather be doing.

Why should I be miserable in a lab when I could be growing things, making art, learning about history, economics, and botany, working with my hands, or wandering in nature?

Then something clicked, or snapped, and I realized that I had grown to hate my work largely because of laziness and poor planning. It was a self-imposed misery. I realized that there were so many opportunities and and intriguing people in my university, and I was missing out on a lot of the beauty and wonder of life and community because I was so miserably self-focused.

So I decided to start planning and weaving more discipline into my life. A simple framework has proven remarkably effective and empowering:

  • 0600 – Play the hammered dulcimer (helps me wake up), read Scripture and pray, exercise, shower, eat breakfast
  • 0800 – Ride my bike to work (10 min), work on the most important task for that day
  • 1000 – Mid-morning break
  • 1030 – Reading and writing closely related to my research topics
  • 1200 – Lunch (preferably with someone)
  • 1230 – Work on critical, but non-urgent research tasks
  • 1430 – Mid-afternoon break
  • 1500 – Miscellaneous research tasks, especially email and administrative tasks
  • 1630 – Reading, writing, and skill acquisition, not necessarily directly related to my research topics
  • 1800 – Bicycle home, eat dinner, work on personal projects, spend time with people
  • 2200 – Sleep

It’s a flexible framework and can be adjusted as required, such as when an experiment requires intensive lab time or when an unexpected deadline comes up.

In general, it motivates me to get out of bed early, start my day with my most important work, take periodic rests to re-energize my body and mind, and make time for relationships and for exploring this wonderful and crazy world.

Instead of running away, a bit of planning and structure may help you thrive and find joy in the often isolating and monotonous grind of grad school.